A Peek Into Cambodia, A Nascent Startup Scene That Is Quietly Hungry

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Last week, we got a peek into Myanmar via Squar, the new homegrown social network that is pushing the boundaries in the newly opened up country. This week, we’re going to take a look at Cambodia, home to Khmer-era Angkor Wat, and a country with a population of over 15 million people. Phnom Penh, the capital, is home to under three million people and is the center of much of the tiny startup community that is building there.

Small but tight-knit

Cambodia, being such a small country, and Phnom Penh, being such a small city, are commonly overlooked when investors are looking for interesting prospects in the region. According to Adrienne Ravez, the co-founder of Geeks In Cambodia, a tech news blog based in Phnom Penh, there might be about 100 startups in the country so far.

Cambodia’s hard stats include over five million 3G subscribers; last year, internet growth saw a 500 percent boost due to fiber optics investments from telcos. There are over 700,000 people on Facebook.

The small ecosystem with a relatively open government has bred a rather tight-knit community in Cambodia where most everyone knows everyone. There are two main co-working spaces, Colab and Small World, and a handful of events. Startup Weekend Cambodia just started last year but events like BarcampPhnomPenh (pulling in over 1,000 people every time) have been around since 2008 and have slowly expanded across the countryside with thousands of dollars of funding from the US Embassy. In other words, the Cambodian people are hungry for more.

Where this is all headed: mobile games and social innovation

With such a small population, we’re not going to start seeing any a VNG in Cambodia anytime soon because the domestic market is just too small for Cambodian entrepreneurs to attack. Thus, according to Adrienne, “entrepreneurs are increasingly looking global to do a startup.”

But the two biggest trends that we’ll probably see out of Cambodia are mobile gaming and social innovation.

Mobile games are particularly popular in Cambodia, and you can see that with things like Asva The Monkey and SomPom gaining prominence. And if you’ve ever been to Cambodia, you know that non-profits are a huge economy unto themselves. They’re rampant. Adrienne speculates that we’ll start to see startups, who are influenced by the non-profits and a civic mentality, building solutions out of that. This will be a unique aspect of the Cambodian startup landscape. So keep your eye out as interesting startups like CheckInTonight start popping up out of this little Southeast Asian nation.

(Editing by Steven Millward)

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